Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Making Movies From Books

I have a solid remembrance of watching, on our local public television station, a British series based on the P.G. Wodehouse series of novels about a feckless and rather stupid, if well-meaning, very wealthy young man named Bertie Wooster and his exceedingly clever and subtly controlling valet, Jeeves. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? When I saw the series advertised on CDs at a terrific rate a couple of months ago, I bought them.

I’ve been watching the series “Barney Miller” one show a day while the Jeeves and Wooster series sat glowering at me on a shelf. Yesterday I could no longer bear it and took out Season Seven of “Barney Miller” to watch just one episode of “Jeeves and Wooster.” It is just about as delightful as I remember, from the jolly, jazzy theme song to the impeccable recreation of the two main characters, played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. The costumes are wonderful, the settings, from a London taxi to the stately home of Sir Roderick Glossop, perfect. Somebody even researched things such as the laying out of the clothing by the valet for his master -- little details that make the period (the twenties) sing with happy authenticity.

The series also seems to capture effortlessly the attitudes and mores of the period in which it is set, or at least the culture Wodehouse described back in the twenties.

I wonder why American film-makers have so much more trouble escaping the modern when doing period pieces? Now I admit I’m not much of a movie goer, but the only American movie seemed to me to be as true in all respects to its time was “The Sting.”

I think I’m going to put Captain Miller back on the shelf for awhile and go instead to a daily dose of Jeeves and Bertie. The trouble? These shows are an hour long, while “Barney Miller” is a half hour, less a few minutes where commercials used to be inserted. I’m going to have to eat my lunch at my desk so I don’t take too much time away from my working day.

I wonder what kind of mess they’d make of my books, if they turned it into a series. If it’s a good enough story, I don’t think I’d complain. I remember a very long time ago a famous writer attending Bouchercon gave some advice about selling a book to a movie producer. He suggested the author forever after carry a copy of the book, so that when friends complained about how the movie ruined it, the book could be pulled out and ostentatiously considered, followed by the remark, “Looks fine to me.”

To my readers in Fargo, ND, Wolf Point and Cut Bank, MT, Spokane and Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, Sacramento, CA, and Salt Lake City, UT, look for me and my friend Tanya in your town in June. (We’re also stopping in East Glacier Park, MT, and Reno, NV, but I’m not making an appearance in either place, but will just be playing the tourist.) See my web site -- -- for a complete schedule.


Linda O. Johnston said...

Living in Hollywood, Monica, I hear a lot about people who've had their books optioned for movies or TV. The film crowd tries to visualize how a story will come across best on screen, and their take on it may be far different from what was initially written. Is it better? That's always a matter of opinion.

riona said...

Oddly, I just finished a marathon re-viewing of my own DVD set of the Jeeves and Wooster series ... and enjoying it just as much as I did the last time I viewed them ... and nearly as much as I enjoyed reading the original Wodehouse books.

Miss Merry said...

Jeeves and Wooster - one of my all time favorite series on PBS. I, too, love the attention to period detail, from the hairbrush to the music to the street scenes to the clothing, to the language, well,everything! Bertie is the ultimate boy toy!

I do think that cable did to justice to the latest Nero Wolfe (by latest I mean 5 years ago, maybe?) Again the attention to detail was amazing.

But, more often than not, I am disappointed in "my" books which are turned into films. I savor every detail and cannot stand the changes! I don't think those screen writers take the diehard fans in consideration!!!!

Monica Ferris said...

Miss Merry wrote:
"But, more often than not, I am disappointed in "my" books which are turned into films. I savor every detail and cannot stand the changes! I don't think those screen writers take the diehard fans in consideration!!!!"

I agree. When I think what they did to Westlake's The Hot Rock, I could just cry -- and the author was involved in writing the screenplay!